Prior to the invention of digital cameras, instant cameras (aka polaroid’s) were the absolute pinnacle of photographic technology. Instead of having to wait until a roll of film was finished and then having it developed, you could see your pictures instantly. It was literally a game changer for the time, one that created many fond memories.
For one reason or another, instant cameras have made a little bit of a resurgence in recent years. With an instant camera, you take the picture and then you have a tangible memory that was created in the moment. This gives the instant gratification of digitization with the vintage nature of film.
Instant camera pictures have a certain quality to them that normal film cameras and digital cameras simply cannot recreate. It’s the middle ground between convenience and character.
Instant camera technology has evolved greatly since the days of the original polaroids. Today we are going to look at 5 of the best modern (and cheap) instant cameras available to see if you can recreate some of that instant camera magic in 2017.
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The Absolute Best Cheap Instant Camera Available – Fujifilm Instax Mini 70
We are starting off our list with our top pick. In our opinion it’s the best cheap instant camera. There are other options on this list that are more advanced and fully featured, but they are a little bit more expensive. The Instax Mini 70 from Fujifilm sits in the perfect sweet spot between performance and affordability.
This camera takes the vivid dynamic pictures that you would expect from an instant camera. They are warm and emotive and capture a scene in a way that would be impossible to do with a digital camera.
The Fujifilm has been designed with selfies in mind (because let’s face it, that’s what instant cameras are for). It has a small mirror on the front of the lens that works like a low-tech version of the 180 flip up LCD screen you may have seen on modern digital selfie cameras. We will be honest, these mirrors (on any camera) are nowhere near as accurate as a digital LCD screen – but they do the job well enough. This is especially important with an instant camera like this because every single shot will cost you money.
Front Mounted Button
The mirror on this camera is not the only selfie feature that has been implemented in its design. It boasts a front mounted button to take pictures with. This may again seem like a reasonably low tech feature in today’s modern world, but it is surprisingly effective when combined with the ergonomic grip. It allows you to easily take a stable shot with a camera that feels very comfortable in the hand. This again is very important when each image is going to cost you money.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
The main issue we have with this camera is the cost of the film. You are roughly going to be paying around 80c per shot, so it’s a little bit more expensive than some of the other cameras on this list. That being said, you really do get what you pay for with instant camera film, and this film is some of the highest quality you fill find.
The Second Best Cheap Instant Film Camera Available – Fujifilm Instax Wide 300
The runner up award for the best cheap instant film camera available again goes to a Fujifilm product. Despite polaroid inventing the technology and becoming the unofficial name for instant camera images, Fujifilm is the top dogs in 2017. Their Instax Wide 300 takes a unique approach to instant images, but admittedly it has its pros and cons.
The main thing that sets this camera apart from many of the other instant cameras on the market is the fact that it is wide angle. This is something that addresses the main limitation of most instant cameras – the image size. They are renowned for only being able to get a small amount of a scene in a picture mainly limited by the film size.
The wide angle lens, combined with the dedicated wide angle film this camera requires removes the small frame issue completely. The images it produces are quite marvellous to look at, we have never seen anything quite like it. If you are looking for something extra special to create stunning tangible photographic memories, then this could be the camera for you.
Close Up Lens
The Fujifilm comes with what they describe as a “close-up lens”. This is not actually a whole new lens and is merely an attachment that attaches over the top of the lens that is built into the camera. This attachment has been specifically designed to take selfies. It has a much closer focal range and includes a little mirror to enable you to see what you are taking a photo of. The focal range makes for excellent pictures, but if we are honest the mirror is a little bit small for our liking (but is better than no mirror at all).
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
The one thing we don’t like about this camera is the lack of a self-timer function. A timer is essential for those shots where you don’t have someone else to take the picture for you. Its not a deal breaker, because to be honest those shots are not all too common in our opinion. But it would certainly have been a nice feature to include.
The Third Best Instant Camera Available – Polaroid PIC-300
No self-respecting list of the best instant cameras available would be complete without an entry from the brand that started it all – polaroid. They are the company that defined the instant camera industry. With many people to this day still referring to instant camera images create as “polaroids” despite them potentially being from a different brands camera.
The PIC-300 from Polaroid contains everything that made the original so successful with a few modern twists. It takes great photos full of vibrancy, and the film it uses is reasonably cheap too!
Polaroid has added a little bit of technology to this camera to help users get the best results possible. They have 4 “scene modes” that you can easily switch between that have been designed for use in different lighting conditions. When every shot costs money, it’s a great way to ensure you don’t waste any due to suboptimal lighting conditions.
The auto flash feature has a similar benefit. You can manually turn the flash off, but if it detects there is not enough light it will automatically turn it on. This again seems like a reasonably archaic and nonnoteworthy feature. But we can pretty much guarantee it will save at least one or two of your pictures from being unusable at the very least.
Most of the cameras on this list do not use rechargeable batteries. Why this is we don’t know. Because you are going to have to use store bought disposable batteries it suddenly becomes important to turn the camera off when not in use. This is something many of us struggle to do, but polaroid has got your back. After 5 minutes of inactivity, it will automatically turn off the 4 lamps that consume energy to preserve your battery life.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
We do wish polaroid had decided to include a little selfie mirror on the front of this camera. It really helps you position the camera, even if its small. It would have been a little addition that cost next to nothing, but would have greatly improved the usability of the camera.
The Fourth Best Affordable Instant Camera Available – Fujifilm Instax Mini 8
This is the third camera on our list from Fujifilm, and we have included it because it is one of the cheapest instant cameras (that actually takes decent photos). It’s a compact, lightweight, and very fun instant camera that will produce images and memories that last a lifetime.
To be totally honest, this is a bit of a bare bones basic camera. Its not exactly fully loaded with features. It’s a simple product, that works effectively and takes decent pictures. The film it uses is not too expensive, and the battery life is excellent. Its just one of those all round decent cameras that are perfect for those on a budget.
Ease Of Use
This is a camera that works around you instead of you working around it. There are no complicated settings and manuals to read. You simply put the film in and start taking pictures. Its lightweight rugged design combined with its point and shoot nature makes it perfect for kids to use too.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
To be honest the thing that makes this camera so attractive to some people will be the reason it is unattractive to others. This is a basic camera, and as such you would get better results with almost all the other cameras on this page. But, it still takes excellent photos that are more than acceptable.
So if you are just looking for something that is a bit of causal fun at the minimum of expense – this could be the product for you. But if you want something a little more fully featured, you should look elsewhere.
The Fifth Best Inexpensive Instant Camera Available – Fujifilm Mini 90
With the amount of Fujifilm entries on this list, you would be forgiven for thinking we have some kind of vested interest in them. But trust us, that’s not the case (see our other reviews for proof). Fujifilm are just the dominating force in instant camera technology.
For the last entry on this list we have chosen their Mini 90, it’s by far the best looking camera on this list, and it also produces stunning images. Its perfect for people that want their camera to look as awesome as the images it produces.
The main thing we love about this camera is the auto adjust technology that has been built into it. This is something you already have on most digital cameras, but it’s rare to see on an instant camera. It will detect the lighting conditions and motion within a scene and automatically adjust the flash and shutter speed to ensure optimum image quality.
Even in the hands of a child, this takes arguably the best images on this list. You get the benefits of digital analysis, with the warm emotive nature of instant film. It’s one of the best inexpensive instant cameras available, and is more than worthy of your consideration.
Lets be honest, most people reading this article will be thinking about using their camera at a party of some kind. Fujifilm have added “party mode” to this camera for just such situations. It enables the camera to balance the right amount of light from the background and foreground for optimal results. This ensures the people in your photo are in context and are not just in a sea of darkness around them.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
It’s one of the more expensive cameras on this list. But we would still class it as cheap. Its worth every penny if you ask us, but if you wanted something cheaper – there are options on this list that cost less than half the price.
You may think that because instant cameras are not digital that there is not as much variance between the different products. However, we would say that there is arguably more difference between the quality of film cameras than digital ones. Here we are going to list a few of the most important features you should be looking out for in any good instant camera.
Because you are creating instant pictures on instant film you are not going to be able to digitally edit the images after they have been taken. This makes proper lighting very important, and ensuring you have a good flash is going to make your photos much better.
Lets face it. 90% of the photos you are probably imagining taking with an instant camera are selfies. The dynamic instant gratification of a physical photographic memory is perfect for them. The older instant cameras didn’t have selfie features on them, but some newer ones do.
Instant camera selfie features are not going to be the same advanced features you see on digital cameras (but they are still very effective). Selfie functionality is usually found in the form of automatic exposure calculation, and small mirrors on the front of the camera that allow you to see what you are shooting. Just because they are low tech features, doesn’t mean you should overlook them.
This is something we never imagined ever having to write about again, but here we are… You need to take into account the price of the film that any instant camera you are buying is compatible with. Most brands will only ever allow you to use their own proprietary film in their cameras, so once you buy it – you are committed to buying that film for the rest of your cameras life. It pays to do a little bit of research into the cost of the film before committing to a camera to avoid any unwelcome surprises.
Instant cameras are alive and well. They are arguably more popular than ever. This resurgence in popularity is showing no sign of slowing down and we think we will see even more advances in instant camera technology in the years to come.
But don’t wait around, get one now. You too can start creating tangible, physical photographic memories (with the instant gratification the digital era has accustomed us all to).
Shared under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Michael Sheehan – https://flic.kr/p/rpaAi6
Iqbal Osman – https://flic.kr/p/mSqXxE
Ben Seidelman – https://flic.kr/p/qhzYRS
minoir – https://flic.kr/p/o9CRiF